Life in the Disbat

Komsomolskaya pravda’s Viktor Sokirko had an interesting article today about life in a disbat — a disciplinary battalion.  It features a rather idyllic video showing some of the inmate-soldiers’ daily activities.

Sokirko says only two disbats remain, and he was invited inside one to see a “prison in shoulderboards.”  The 28th Independent Disciplinary Battalion looks like other units with barracks, parade grounds, etc.  But it also has barbed wire, guard dogs, and a security company.

The acting commander says he has 162 men under guard, although he could accommodate 800.

Most are inside for “nonregulation relations” or dedovshchina.  There’s also theft, extortion, AWOL, and less often, desertion.

One Russian conscript from Abkhazia is serving 6 months for refusing to scrub the barrack floor.  He adopted the “law of the mountains,” and refused to do “women’s work.”  Another, a sergeant, got two years for rupturing the spleen of a soldier who cursed him for sending him to clean the latrine.

The acting commander says his charges aren’t beaten or thrown into pits, but simply forced to march in formation and live strictly according to regulations (including learning every line).  And there’s cleaning the barracks.

If they don’t toe the line, there’s the guardhouse, and no one wants to go there, so even the proud and independent Caucasians follow orders.  More than half the inmates — 96 — are North Caucasians.  The article claims only 2 percent of the Russian Army is drafted there, but half the men in the disbat are Caucasians.

The commander says there’s no special treatment in the disbat:

“Here everyone scrubs the toilets, and eats lard.  The friendship of peoples in miniature.”

Inmates don’t get a permanent record from time in the disbat, and the command claims only 5 percent of its former inmates become criminals subsequently.

Interestingly, Rossiyskaya gazeta wrote about the disbat in 2009.  It said there were still 5 disbats with about 1,200 inmates in all.  It noted, while they don’t get a record, their disbat time doesn’t count, and they still have to complete their conscription term.  RG said 40 percent were serving time for AWOL, about the same for dedovshchina, and the rest for other crimes.

Sergey Ivanov had proposed the guardhouse as a replacement for the disbat.  Disciplinary cases would go to the guardhouse, and any soldier committing a crime not covered in the regs would be handled in civil court and prisons.  But Anatoliy Serdyukov didn’t support the plan to build and rebuild guardhouses.  Of course, he also claimed the disbat provided a better chance to get a guy back on track.

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